Construction workloads in Scotland ‘edge upwards’ as house-building activity rises

A rise in house-building drove an overall marginal increase in construction activity in Scotland during the final quarter of 2017, according to new figures.

Both public and private sector house building activity was higher in the quarter, according to the balance of respondents to the quarterly Construction & Infrastructure Market Survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found.

Indeed, the balance for public housing (+27%) was the highest in the UK.

However, lacklustre figures for the private commercial and public non-housing subsectors, and reported falls in infrastructure and private industrial work saw the overall workload balance for Scotland lag most other UK regions.

In line with this, shortages of workers appear less acute in Scotland than in other regions; albeit that skills gaps do exist. 44% of Scottish respondents reported shortages of quantity surveyors (compared to 66% for the UK as a whole). 38% say that they are seeing shortages of other construction professionals (compared to a UK figure of 54%).

Scottish surveyors remain relatively upbeat about the outlook for the sector – though less so than the UK average. A net balance of 42% of Scottish respondents believe that their workloads will be higher in 12 months’ time (compared to a UK figure of 48%). A net balance of 11% believe that they will employ more people over the next 12 months (compared to a UK figure of 35%).

Gail Hunter, regional director for RICS in Scotland, said: “Activity in the construction sector in Scotland continues to expand, albeit marginally so, despite uncertainties related to Brexit and recent market events. It appears that this growth is largely being driven by activity in the house-building sector, and whilst expectations for the year ahead remain relatively positive, the current lacklustre performance in other sub sectors will cause some concern. Capacity constraints notwithstanding, the ability of the sector to contribute more sustainably to economic prosperity will depend largely on more coherent policies addressing issues ranging from workforce development to planning.”

The main findings of the survey for Scotland include:

  • A net balance of +7% of respondents said that workloads in this area rose in the quarter
  • The net balance for public housing was +27%, indicating that workloads rose
  • A net balance of +14% of respondents said that private housing workloads rose
  • The net balance for private commercial activity was 6%, suggesting that workloads in this sub-sector rose marginally
  • The net balance for private industrial activity was -7%, indicating that workloads fell
  • The net balance for infrastructure activity was -7%, indicating that workloads in this area fell
  • A net balance 6% of respondents said that workloads regarding public non-housing activity rose
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